Six Nations 2014: Warren Gatland stays true to tried and trusted squad to rise above turmoil

 

Warren Gatland already knows a thing or two about laying hands on the union code's glittering prizes, but if he makes Six Nations history over the next few weeks by coaching Wales to a third successive title, his reputation as a rugby alchemist will be secure. The 32-man squad he announced looked extremely powerful, but with several key players in contractual limbo, others plying their trade abroad and still more lamenting the viciousness of the political turf war west of the Severn, the New Zealander may have a difficult job bringing people together in common cause.

Gatland did not feel the need to pick any uncapped players, largely because the likes of Jonathan Davies, Jamie Roberts, Gethin Jenkins, Ryan Jones and the captain, Sam Warburton, were all expected to recover from various aches and pains in time to play in the forthcoming competition.

The one surprise was the demotion of Lloyd Williams, the Cardiff Blues scrum-half, who looked like a world-beater in the making a couple of years ago. He found himself overtaken by Rhys Webb of Ospreys, who turned in a decent Heineken Cup performance against Northampton last weekend, and the Scarlets No 9 Rhodri Williams.

Unsurprisingly, given the sharp deterioration in relations between the Welsh Rugby Union (which pays Gatland very handsomely) and the four regional teams, who barely have so much as a groat between them, there was much talk of off-field matters as the squad was confirmed. The coach openly acknowledged that a problem existed, without shining even the faintest light on how matters might be resolved.

"We know there are some politics going on but we will put that to one side, come together as a group and focus on our rugby, which is something we can control," he said, a day after wondering aloud in public about the sustainability of the four-region structure in a volatile environment, increasingly dominated by big-spending French clubs and rebellious English ones.

"We have the opportunity to create history and that will give us extra motivation," he added. "We have three games at home and two tough away matches against Ireland and England, but they were the fixtures when we won our Grand Slams in 2008 and 2012. We know it can be done."

Assuming the current crocks are declared fit sooner rather than later – the France-bound Scarlets centre Davies is the most seriously injured, having wrecked a pectoral muscle during the autumn internationals – and no one mangles himself anew on regional duty this weekend, Wales will chase an unprecedented Six Nations hat-trick with a group of players gifted and experienced in equal measure. They may not have vast strength in depth at tight-head prop – who has? – but when a coach can choose between Davies, Roberts, Scott Williams and the compelling James Hook in midfield, or run two of Warburton, Justin Tipuric and Dan Lydiate on the flanks, he is not exactly stranded in a selectorial desert. They will take a good deal of stopping.

Ireland, who gave the new coach Joe Schmidt a lift with their bold performance against the All Blacks before Christmas, named a 44-man squad featuring seven new faces, many of whom were filling gaps left by more familiar names who will stay on the outside looking in until they prove their fitness – high-profile individuals like the Lions wings Tommy Bowe and Simon Zebo, the lock Donnacha Ryan and the hooker Richardt Strauss. The most interesting of the uncapped brigade was the unusually rapid No 8 Robin Copeland, who has been in startling form for Cardiff Blues of late.

On the club front, Gloucester finally confirmed what everyone has known for ages: namely, that the England outside-half Freddie Burns will leave Kingsholm at the end of the season. He is widely thought to have signed for Leicester, although the Midlanders are keeping mum for the moment.

Wales squad

Backs L Williams (Scarlets), L Halfpenny (Cardiff), G North (Northampton), A Cuthbert (Cardiff), S Williams (Scarlets), J Roberts (Racing Metro), J Davies (Scarlets), J Hook (Perpignan), R Priestland (Scarlets), D Biggar (Ospreys), M Phillips (Metro), R Williams (Scarlets), R Webb (Ospreys).

Forwards P James (Bath), G Jenkins (Cardiff), R Bevington, A Jones (both Ospreys), S Lee, Rhodri Jones (both Scarlets), R Hibbard (Ospreys), K Owens, E Phillips (both Scarlets), A W Jones (Ospreys), L Charteris (Perpignan), I Evans (Ospreys), A Coombs (Newport-Gwent Dragons), Ryan Jones, J Tipuric (both Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff, capt), D Lydiate (Metro), A Shingler (Scarlets), T Faletau (Newport).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable